Submitted by Climate Scorecard Russia Country Manager Michael Oshchepkov
As NGOs typically call attention to shortcomings in services provided by the state, there are some “red lines” impeding their broad activities in the Russian Federation. Despite this situation, there are both local NGOs and branches of international NGOs in Russia with hardly any having a full-fledged climate program. The Russian Socio-Ecological Union (RSEU) based in St. Petersburg seems to be the most successful one.
Established in 1992, RSEU is a democratic, non-governmental, non-profit organization managed by the elected Council and annual conference. There are 242 member-organizations and 333 registered individuals registered from all over Russia. More than 40 member-organizations actively participate in the RSEU projects and programs as well as in network activities.
The NGO’s mission is to unite the efforts of its members for securing harmony between nature and society, conservation and restoration of nature and culture environment, preventing actions that lead to destruction of nature and damage the people health.
RSEU carries out its campaigns, programs, and projects using donations from its members. To become an RSEU member, a person or local organization should share RSEU values, be active in RSEU’s priority areas, and work in a spirit of cooperation.
The following programs, campaigns, and projects aimed at nature conservation and the protection of humanity’s health and wellbeing are implemented by the union:
- Climate Program
- Climate adaptation of hydro power plants
- Water program
- Environmental education
- Program for Nuclear and Radiation Safety
- Energy Efficiency Campaign
- Decomatom project
RSEU’s Climate Program is the NGO’s basic activity. The program was approved on the RSEU’s annual conference in 2010. There is no particular deadline for implementation but the main goal is to develop climate policy in Russia that would protect citizens from the effects of climate change and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through promoting the concept of sustainable “green” energy.
As part of the program, the NGO carries out the following activities:
- Arrangement of the RSEU’s annual climate conference with participation of the Russian Federation regional representatives.
- Elaboration of the RSEU’s position on climate change and national energy policy, as well as the NGO’s Action Plan concerning these issues and proposals to the official Russian delegation at the UN climate negotiations.
- Promotion of the RSEU’s official website (https://rusecounion.ru), which is the only web-resource in Russia publishing the independent position of public organizations and expert comments on the issues regarding national policy.
- Development of the RSEU’s Climate Information Network (firstname.lastname@example.org) and dissemination of the NGO’s position on climate and energy topics.
- Development of the expert, informational, and organizational activities of the RSEU’s Climate Secretariat with participation of other Russian NGOs – “Friends of the Baltic” and “Center of Environmental Initiatives”.
- Enhancement of international cooperation, elaboration of the NGOs’ position on international climate policy as well as the countries’ negotiating positions.
- Supporting the work of the RSEU’s public observers at international climate negotiations, informing the RSEU’s Climate Information Network members, initiating meetings with official delegations, interacting with other Russian NGOs during negotiations through discussion of joint positions, documents, and actions.
- Working with the media in order to:
- increase public awareness regarding the problem of climate change, its consequences, necessary adaptation measures, and possibilities for low-carbon energy in the country
- make public the RSEU’s position on climate-related problems and necessary actions which should be taken by the government, business, and population in order to tackle them
- Preparation and holding of the Energy Saving Day.
- Preparation and implementation of the RSEU’s campaign called “Energy Efficiency is the largest power plant in Russia”.
The Climate Program is implemented both by independent activists and private enterprises – more than 50 people and 30 organizations in total. The program is open to all interested persons and organizations; it was implemented in close interaction with other organizations and experts working on the topic of climate and energy. In Russia, these organizations are represented by the branches of international NGOs, such as Greenpeace, WWF, Bellona, Heinrich Boell Foundation, German-Russian Exchange in St. Petersburg (NRO), and Ecodefense. RSEU also collaborates with international NGOs from Belarus, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, US, and UK.
The program is coordinated by the RSEU Climate Secretariat and the Friends of the Baltic organization which is a member of the RSEU in St. Petersburg. Olga Senova, chief of Friends of the Baltic, is responsible for coordinating the activities carried out by the RSEU within the framework of the Climate Program. The results of the RSEU activities are regularly published on the organization’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/rusecounion/).
Recommendation: An analysis of the potential for scaling-up the project
Despite the fact that RSEU has one of the best climate practices in Russia, its efforts towards mitigation of climate change are insufficient. For scaling-up the RSEU’s Climate Program more advocates and financial resources are needed.
However, there is an obstacle for NGOs activity in Russia – the Russian legal system which provides the judicial control over NGOs due to the Russia’s 2012 Foreign Agent Law. This law gives the government “supervisory power”, or the ability for members of the Russian government involved with NGO legislation to oversee organization operations, which clearly interferes with the normal day-to-day operations of NGOs. One final important part of the Foreign Agent Law is that it restricts funding from foreign or international organizations. The law makes grants from such sources taxable income unless the foreign source is on an extremely exclusive government list. In addition to the Foreign Agent law, the government also reintroduced the criminalization of “defamatory statements,” which seriously hinders an NGO’s ability to “name and shame” actors. Besides, the law forbids NGOs to conduct any political discussion at the public level. All these factors make scaling-up of any programs or projects very difficult within the territory of Russia.
The current legislation in Russia does not facilitate the development of unique and effective climate practices by local NGOs. RSEU is an example of the NGO which is trying to make the most of the minimum available resources. The organization shows how it is possible to successfully carry out the climate and other ecology-related programs cooperating with international NGOs and adopting to the unfavorable legal environment.
Ruslan Edelgeriyev, Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation and Special Presidential Representative on Climate Issues